The first thing that changed when we crossed the border was the announcements were in French first, then translated into English. It might have been at that point that the panic started to set in. I had slept maybe 3 hours after stopping for a beer the night before on the way home from dinner and getting to bed around midnight. That was followed by a restless night of sleep and an alarm that went of at 4 AM. I was tired, excited and scared shitless when I stepped off the train.
Suddenly I realized that I was in a foreign country where the only words I knew how to say were ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ I didn’t prepare much for the trip because I’ve always had the philosophy to let the adventure come as it will. I sincerely regretted this attitude when I couldn’t figure out what metro train I needed to take to get to Notre Dame. Luckily I’m fairly decent with maps and had some guidance from a guy I had met at a bar in NYC who gave me some tips before I left. I managed to get the train near-ish to Notre Dame with no help from the ticket lady who couldn’t be bothered with my questions. Of course at this point my phone was at 40% and I still wasn’t sure what the deal with my cell data was. I walked around hoping to muster the courage to sit at one of those cafes where everyone sits outside drinking espresso and smoking cigarettes.
I ended up at Starbucks. So I admit, my first attempt at solo travel was not off to a great start and I wasn’t being as adventurous as I had hoped to be. I sat there for about 45 minutes letting my phone charge and sipping an iced latte. After I had a charge and used the Starbucks wifi to figure out my route, I set out to Notre Dame. It wasn’t a long walk and I was astounded at every corner I turned at the beauty of the city. I felt like I was walking through a scene from Tale of Two Cities. Every building was more impressive than the last and I hadn’t even seen anything yet.
When I walked up to Notre Dame I was overwhelmed with the size and magnificence of the building. By this point I had seen some amazing buildings in London, but they paled in comparison to this. The intricate windows, the detailed gargoyles, the shear size. I have a thing with churches where they always seem to make me cry. I’m not religious really, so its always on odd feeling. As I walked into the cathedral and looked up at the stained glass and left and right to the statutes, candles, worshipers and the pulpit, I had one of those moments where you can’t understand how such beauty exists in the world. When I got a little teary eyed, I was grateful that I had made this journey solo so that no one witnessed it and I could embrace it alone. I walked around thinking about the history of the place and the people who had walked there before. Its an odd sensation being in a place that has so much history. I took a couple of pictures but gave up knowing that they would never do the place justice.
I felt a lot more confident after successfully finding my first destination in Paris. The rest of the day passed too quickly with 12 miles of walking. I had lunch with a friend of a friend in one of those cafes I wanted to sit at. He ordered for us in French and I was pleasantly surprised at my meal having no idea what I had ordered. I made my way to the Tuileries Garden deciding to skip The Louvre because I wasn’t going to go inside anyway. I walked the entire Champs-Élysées and walked under the Arc de Triomphe. This is where I finally mustered the courage to use a little bit of French. With no idea where the Metro entrance was to get to the Eiffel Tower, I greeted a police officer holding a very scary gun saying “Bounjour” and asked where I could find the station.
I’ve seen countless pictures of the Eiffel Tower in my life as I’m sure everyone has. I wasn’t really excited to see it because I figured it would just be one of those things where you have to see it but its not any more impressive than in pictures. I was wrong. I got off the train at Trocadero, ignoring the chatchky pushers and group of street performers trying to do flips over tourists (I guess these guys are in every big city) and took in the Eiffel Tower. It was enormous, beautiful, and incredibly impressive. I sat and admired it for a bit knowing that this was a moment I’d remember for the rest of my life. I finally realized then that I was living a dream I’d had my entire life. I was in Europe. I was traveling. There were stamps on my passport. And I did it alone. I thought about all the times I’d talked about wanting to do this, all the times I’d looked up flights, made plans in my head, felt like an idiot using a blank passport to get into bars, how scared I was just hours earlier in the train station, and I was so happy. I’d finally delivered on a promise I had made to myself years earlier in the passport office after another of many break ups with the same boyfriend. I didn’t wait this time for someone to do it with me or back out after convincing myself it wasn’t a good idea. I did it.
Looking up at the Eiffel Tower from underneath is just as, if not more, impressive than looking at it from a close distance. The intricacy of the metal work and the size of it was unlike anything I had ever seen. I walked down the Champ de Mars watching people take pictures pinching the Eiffel Tower in the background. I checked my phone and at 30% I decided to play it safe and take an Uber to the airport rather than attempt to navigate the trains. As I took off on the way to Dublin I was utterly exhausted from all of the walking and overwhelmed with all of the beauty I had seen. I wasn’t scared anymore to be by myself and was ready to check another destination off my bucket list. Although there was a rough start, I consider my first day of solo travel to have been a success and was more than excited for the next adventure to come.